The Dead Gentleman, by Matthew Cody (lexile: NA; AR book level: 5.7; 280 pp)
If you know where to look, the world is full of Portals — hidden doorways between worlds. Eleven-year-old Tommy Learner is an unlikely member of the band of Explorers who are committed to finding and traveling through these portals. As the story opens in New York City, 1901, Tommy and fellow explorer Bernard are preparing to check one buried in a basement. But something goes very wrong …
Fast-forward to the present. Twelve-year-old Jezebel Lemon decides to check out the creepy old basement of her apartment building. And there she encounters a boy with a message:
“I don’t have much time. But you’ve got to be warned. Keep safe and trust your instincts. Be careful. Be smart. Be afraid. The Dead Gentleman’s coming.”
Suddenly he’s gone. Maybe she was hallucinating — so she thinks, until that night when the monsters creep out of her closet.
Tommy and Jez are soon thrown together, and learn that the mysterious Dead Gentleman has set his sights on conquering Earth, the only world left where the dead stay dead. And Tommy and Jez are the only ones left with any chance of stopping him. The fast-paced tale includes all sorts of cool stuff, including a time-traveling airship, a clockwork bird, zombies, dinosaurs, an almost-toothless vampire, and a submarine called The Nautilus (with a nod to Jules Verne of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame). The story builds to a dramatic, final battle outside New York City that kept me turning pages quickly.
Some time travel novels go to great lengths to explain the background story, how all the imaginary elements fit together in a consistent worldview (for example, The Book of Time series I’ve reviewed). The Dead Gentleman doesn’t, which is OK. It’s meant to move quickly. Tommy and Jez are both bold characters, sometimes clashing, but a good team. The ending is conclusive, but with hints of sequels yet to come.